Teaching Students About Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan was a dedicated and visionary inventor, whose contributions often went unnoticed during his time, partly due to racial bias. However, his ingenuity lives on in vital safety inventions that we rely upon daily. Teaching students about Garrett Morgan can provide them with an excellent example of persistence, creativity, and social responsibility.

Born on March 4th, 1877 in Paris, Kentucky, Garrett Morgan was the seventh of eleven children in a mixed-race family. Despite facing adversity early on in life due to racial discrimination, he taught himself about machines and technology by observing his surroundings and working odd jobs.

One of Garrett’s most significant accomplishments was inventing the traffic light. In 1916, he witnessed a severe accident between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage because there were no effective traffic control devices at that time. Motivated by this tragedy, he created the first three-position traffic signal system that included a “warning” or “caution” state (the yellow light) apart from the “stop” and “go” indicators. His traffic control device became a vital part of modern road safety, saving countless lives over the years.

Another notable invention by Garrett was the Safety Hood – a precursor to the gas mask. He designed this life-saving equipment in response to disasters in mining and tunnel construction industries at that time. The device consisted of a canvas hood with glass eyeholes and tubes connected to a sponge or cloth filter that absorbed chemicals and allowed clean air to pass through. During a major tunnel explosion in Cleveland, Ohio in July 1916, Morgan used his Safety Hood to lead a team of volunteers who managed to rescue several trapped workers.

Teaching students about Garrett Morgan should go beyond simply discussing facts about his life and inventions. It’s crucial to emphasize the values he exemplified: perseverance in the face of adversity, his genuine desire to help others, and his contributions to society despite racial prejudice.

Here are some strategies to engage students while teaching them about Garrett Morgan:

1. Share authentic visual materials: Show photographs of Morgan’s inventions and other historical documents that shed light on his times. Visual aids can make history more fun, accessible, and relatable for students.

2. Encourage critical thinking: Foster discussions about the implications of mixed-race families during that time, discrimination against African Americans, and the socio-political landscape. You might also invite students to brainstorm how they can use their gifts or abilities to contribute positively within their communities.

3. Foster creativity: Organize an “invention brainstorm” session where students create their traffic light or safety device designs inspired by Morgan’s creations.

4. Include multiple perspectives: Invite guest speakers from various fields – historians, inventors, engineers – to speak about Garrett Morgan’s impact or relate it to contemporary issues.

5. Create cross-curriculum connections: Integrate elements from history, technology, ethics, and social justice into your lessons about Garrett Morgan’s life and work.

Garrett Morgan was a persistent innovator who dedicated his abilities to save lives and improve the world around him. By providing students with a comprehensive understanding of his life and inventions, we can inspire them to dream big, rise above challenges and work towards a better future for all.

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